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REPORT: House Ethics Compromise "Gift Ban" Wouldn't Actually Ban Any Gifts

HB1211/SB649 so loophole-riddled, Star Scientific gifts to Bob McDonnell would still be legal 

Richmond, VA - ProgressVA Education Fund today released a new report analyzing the impact of HB1211 on gifts to elected officials. Momentum for ethics reform legislation has been amplified by former Governor Bob McDonnell's gift scandal and yesterday's indictment. HB1211 (Gilbert) and SB649 (Norment) resulted from the compromise framework negotiated by House Republicans and Democrats. 

ProgressVA Education Fund analyzed the impact the legislation would have had on all gifts to General Assembly members and statewide elected officials in 2012, the last year for which complete data is available. The results are astonishing. Thanks to massive loopholes, HB1211 would not have banned a single gift in 2012. Among the report's findings:

  • The proposed $250 gift limit applies only to gifts from registered lobbyists. Registered lobbyists give very few, if any, gifts. Companies who employ lobbyists are instead the primary givers. No officials received a gift valued at over $250 from a lobbyist in 2012 so therefore no gifts would be banned.
  • The unnecessary distinction between tangible and intangible gifts similarly renders a $250 gift ban virtually meaningless. In 2012, only 18 gifts were identified as "tangible" out of a total of 756 gifts. Of those, only 8 breached the $250 threshold.
  • No gift received by Bob or Maureen McDonnell from Jonnie Williams or Star Scientific would be banned under HB1211 because Jonnie Williams was not a registered lobbyist. 

"This bill is a sad excuse for ethics reform," said ProgressVA Education Fund Executive Director Anna Scholl. "Rather than instituting strict gifts limits, HB1211 presents the misleading image of reform while preserving elected officials' ability to accept unlimited gifts and favors."

In contrast to the loopholes currently in HB1211, an actual $250 gift ban would have an impact on gifts to elected officials. If a $250 limit had been in effect in 2012, 30% of all gifts, valued at $295,099 would have been banned.

Unsurprisingly, a $100 gift ban would have a greater impact. Governor Terry McAuliffe has instituted a $100 gift ban on his administration and Senator Donald McEachin has proposed a similar limit in SB 648. In 2012, a $100 gift ban would have prohibited 67% of gifts, cumulatively worth $338,365.

The full report is available online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/201338225/Reforming-Virginia%E2%80%99s-Lax-Ethics-Laws